Credit Union Community Comes Together for JA BizTown

The doors opened at 9 a.m., and some 70 fourth and fifth graders rushed into JA BizTown with excited faces and cries of “Wow!” They were walking into a mini city, complete with a construction company, utilities, a newspaper, a TV station, a doctor’s office, a restaurant, an electronics store and its own City Hall.

And it was up to them to run it—with a little supervision from credit union volunteers. The students came from a charter school in Oregon City and from Franklin Elementary School in Corvallis.

The students had already received at least 20 hours of in-classroom training necessary for acceptance in the JA BizTown program. Their classroom instruction included creating business plans, applying for jobs and being hired into positions such as chief executive officer, account executive, retail sales specialist and even mayor.

Addie George served as the mayor for the day and had on her staff a city attorney who investigated a lawsuit against the town café (dismissed) and a theft (culprit apprehended).

While on the job, the students applied for business loans, printed payroll checks, deposited their checks, shopped for goods, paid rent and utilities, bought health insurance, served real food at the restaurant and set a record that would impress most adults: 18 of the 19 businesses were able to pay off their loans.

Because philanthropy was part of the classroom instruction prior to the day at JA BizTown, the animal shelter was a popular place. The students were able to “adopt” stuffed animals and make donations. The facility made $200.

Volunteers serving the students came from Unitus, Advantis, Columbia, Pacific Northwest and Oregonians credit unions. OSU Federal Credit Union in Corvallis made the Franklin students’ participation possible with a sizeable $300 grant.

The credit union volunteers took as much delight in JA BizTown as did the students.

Emily Wobbe, a training specialist from Advantis, is used to seeing good training and organization pay off as she helps new employees acclimate at her credit union. Still, she was surprised how “well-put-together” JA BizTown is. Wobbe supervised the students who were assigned to operate the town café, where they sold popcorn, cold drinks and other snacks. They served food to customers, conducted all financial transactions, and, yes, swept the floors.

JA BizTown StoreThe “businesses” in JA BizTown are made possible by funding from contributors such as Fred Meyer and Best Buy. A construction company provided hard hats and supplies while the students and their volunteer supervisors, including Chad Warneke from Oregonians FCU, contributed sweat and talent to build Adirondack chairs. The chairs were then donated to the participating schools.

Charlie Hopkins is a commercial loan officer for Unitus in real life but found himself overseeing a busy Fred Myer store.

“Our biggest challenge was that we were one person short,” he said, noting the staff got a real-life experience picking up extra work because a colleague was out sick or on vacation.

Volunteers were responsible for conducting staff meetings and for guiding the students through the day. For many of those volunteers, a big challenge was letting go and letting the students perform. Nicole Charshaf, design manager for the Northwest Credit Union Association (NWCUA) was thrilled to spend the day in the Best Buy store. She found her staff smart, efficient and fully prepared.

“Our CFO had to leave her lunch break early because she said she had so much work to do,” said Charshaf. The store, like many of the businesses, turned a profit for the day. Charshaf reported that the staff also figured out on its own to call other businesses and tell them when their invoices were ready, ensuring timely payments. “That wasn’t in the operations manual.”

Volunteers participated in a 90-minute training session prior to the day’s opening. Once a volunteer has been trained, he or she is invited back on any day off to do so again. Many of the credit union team members who participated last week said they’ll be back.

Credit Union Day at Portland’s JA BizTown was one of many collaborative events taking place during the International Year of Cooperatives in the Northwest, with a similar event already planned at JA BizTown in Seattle April 17. Association staff is looking for opportunities for cooperative credit union events in other communities throughout the year.

Questions or Concerns? Contact Matt Halvorson, Anthem Editor:

Posted in Events.